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We’ve been talking about the Islamic headscarves in my “Muslims in the West” class, and for tomorrow’s class we have to read a short article about the ban.  It critically analyzes several of the traditional reasons why the headscarves should be banned, and I found one particular justification of a ban that focused on the headscarf as a symbol of male domination particularly interesting:


“A third argument, very prominent today, is that the burqa is a symbol of male domination that symbolizes the objectification of women (that they are being seen as mere objects).  A Catalonian legislator recently called the burqa a “degrading prison.”  The first thing we should say about this argument is that the people who make it typically don’t know much about Islam and would have a hard time saying what symbolizes what in that religion.  But the more glaring flaw in the argument is that society is suffused with symbols of male supremacy that treat women as objects.  Sex magazines, nude photos, tight jeans — all of these products, arguably, treat women as objects, as do so many aspects of our media culture.  And what about the “degrading prison” of plastic surgery?  Every time I undress in the locker room of my gym, I see women bearing the scars of liposuction, tummy tucks, breast implants.  Isn’t much of this done in order to conform to a male norm of female beauty that casts women as sex objects? Proponents of the burqa ban do not propose to ban all these objectifying practices.  Indeed, they often participate in them.  And banning all such practices on a basis of equality would be an intolerable invasion of liberty…

I think this ad says it all. Check out the link for similar pictures.

My immediate reaction is to say yes, I agree with everything and that I am proud not to participate in these activities.  I really don’t like make-up, as quite a few people could probably tell you, and I’m not a big fan of high heels and other stupid things which serve no functional purpose other than to make women appear more attractive.  However, while these are definitely true it would be naive of me to say that I do not indirectly support some of these things.

How?  The answer is simple.  I like attractive women.  Just like basically every other human being alive I like an attractive person of the sex I am interested in.  I might not want to marry an attractive lady, but attraction is undeniably an important aspect of a relationship.  That need for attraction is itself okay and undeniably natural.  However, it is in defining what is attractive that the problem arises.  Attractiveness is a purely cultural creation.  After all, many people today might find overweight people unattractive, but in times past when food was scarce a plump man or woman meant a decent diet, something which was understandably attractive in a lover.  The same can be said for skin tone: these days everyone wants a nice tan to feel attractive, but years ago pale skin was attractive as it meant you were wealthy enough not to have to work outside!

So my point is this: we are all guilty of objectifying women, even women themselves.  We do this by promoting very sexual and “objectified” portrayals of what is an attractive woman.  What can we do about it?  I don’t have an answer to that question because I too am at the mercy of passion and attraction.  But think about this the next time you claim to be outside the objectification of women.

Objectification of men blog.

Oh, and just a side note, can’t we equally say we are objectifying men?  Just think about it.

For more on headscarves, check out this BBC article from 2010 about headscarf bans in Europe.